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Sibelius Symphony No 2; Pohjola's Daughter

LSO/Sir Colin Davis

LSO Live LSO 0605

This is another fascinating offering from the LSO live series; the work is an old warhorse and the conductor is a household name, and closely associated with the composer; indeed this must be Davis' fourth recording of Sibelius 2 at least. It is the consistency - and consistent individuality - of his view that make this an extremely interesting offering.

Davis ' view is broad, unhurried, stately; not even the scurrying scherzo betrays the anguished side of a nationalist struggle; it is all a fundamentally lyrical stream of self-expression. The LSO play with great commitment and élan. There is more than a whiff of Elgar about the interpretation indeed, has long made it favourite among English conductors such as Barbirolli .

Davis ' Sibelius was defined by the old Philips Boston SO set. That is strong on architecture and, characteristically for Davis , histrionics and excessive sentiment are absent. In the case of Symphony No 2, it made for a compromise between its fiery romanticism and the expansive traditional structure. This tendency towards a relaxed interpretation increased in Davis ' second cycle, with the LSO on RCA, which by no means all critics thought was an improvement. Indeed, his approach was thought best in the later, more elliptical pieces. So some find his Symphony No 2 simply too flabby; for others, it perfectly curbs the indulgent excesses of Sibelius ' early, accessible style.

There is nothing but good to be said about Sir Colin Davis' conducting. Over what is now four decades, his recordings of many, very different composers Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Dvorak and, indeed Sibelius have served as benchmarks of the repertoire. Davis always shows his strong character, but never at the expense of a sense of respectful fidelity to the composer.

A fine reading of Pohjola's daughter completes this disc. It offers obvious price advantages over, and much more modern sound than its immediate competitors - the other Davis versions, any of which would be a satisfying only version in a collector's library. The recording, by Jonathan Stokes, deserves special commendation for taming the Barbican's sometimes harsh acoustic without losing any of its bite and edginess. Note that separate CD and SACD versions are available (budget and mid-price).

This CD can be recommended without reservation. Yet my personal favourite Davis version is none of these, but the Dresden Staaskapelle version on Profil, much more expensive (full price for a radio broadcast!), much harder to find, and not as well recorded, but somehow with added excitement for no loss of Davis' impeccable structural sense. The felicitously large choice is yours.

Ying Chang